Choice is a beautiful thing. And then sometimes – it’s NOT!
Scary I know!
It’s one thing that all creatives wrestle with, and I’m here to make it a little easier for you.
So, how do you choose your next creative project…from all those ideas you’ve scribbled sideways in a journal or have floating around on post-it notes?
This is a place where creatives often find themselves circling. And by circling, I mean paralyzed into inaction, surfing the net, and standing with your head in the fridge like it’s a honey tree and your Winnie the Pooh!
It’s decision time – and it ain’t hapnin!
So here’s the dirt!
Creativity has two processes – “generating” ideas, and then “selecting” from those ideas and turning them into an artistic project.
Certain personalities are good at generating ideas. Probably lots of ideas, I’m guessing, right? That’s me; eight new ideas before breakfast. And it can be exhausting and annoying because I can’t do it all!
Other personalities have a wonderful ability to develop a “critical” sense, careful and deliberate – skills necessary to choose which idea to work on.
But, as with everything, it’s a good mix of idea generation, and the ability to act on those ideas, that determines how successful we are as an artist.
Choosing is important. But there’s pain in choosing, pain in leaving other good ideas behind.
And then of course we fear we’ve chosen the wrong project – which keeps us circling in a loop and unable to make progress.
I feel your pain! This is an area where I’ve struggled quite a bit over the years. I imagine everyone here has struggled with it as well. The problem with being a creative person is that, by nature, your interests are constantly shifting and growing.
So, the upshot is, as a creative you will continue to generate all those good ideas, and then you must choose. But how?
How to Choose
There are several schools of thought out there which include a few “filtering questions.” For me, they’re kinda academic and when it comes to the real choice, I need something a bit more heart centered.
But let’s discuss them anyway because I DO use them to decide on the projects I think I should leave until later.
1. What will help you achieve your goals? It’s our nature as creatives to have new ideas and easily get bored with the old ones. Yes?
But you can’t get distracted by “squirrels” that aren’t going to help you achieve your goals. Consider your “WHY” and cull down some of the ideas that might not get you closer to your goals.
2. What are you passionate about? The idea behind this is to ensure you don’t pursue a creative project just because of the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s.. That will be a dead end. The idea is to spend time on the projects that are closest to your heart.
3. What will help other people? OK, this one might not be for everyone if you aren’t creating for your living. BUT – Make sure your creative work brings value to someone, whether it’s bringing joy and entertainment to you or to others.
4. What is your audience asking for? Again, not for everyone but let’s look at this. Your audience can be YOU! If you have a social following, you have an audience. But, even if you don’t, you have a potential audience. Think about the type of person you’re trying to reach with your art or creative work. That said, sometimes you need to take a risk and just try something. People don’t always know what they want until they see it.
OK, so that’s the brainiac way of looking at your choices, and they might work for you. If they do, choose your project, and run with it! But when you’re pursuing creativity for the joy of it, you will need something a bit more emotional.
My 5 Step Process
Based on my own method, I’ve put together a 5-step process to help you choose your next creative project.
For this exercise, you’ll need index cards, pens, and some space to lay them out, like your desk, worktable, a spare bed, or a place on the floor you can take over for at least a full day.
1. Take Inventory
Start by making an inventory of all your current ideas. Write each separate project or idea on its own card. Make sure you capture everything: comb through your notebooks and journals, any notes you may have taken and set aside for later. Don’t worry about what “counts” as an idea – that doesn’t matter at this stage. Just do a brain dump and get them all down.
2. Take a Deep Breath
You might have a few cards in front of you, or there might be a lot of them. Either way, it might feel overwhelming. But that’s okay! You’re not committing to anything yet. Just breathe deeply as you cast your eyes over all the ideas in front of you. This is the wonder stuff your brain has been thinking about! Don’t choose right now, just breathe. Take it all in. Let it be easy.
3. The Messy Middle
This next step is a big one. It can be daunting. And here it is:
Don’t do anything! Nothing! Nada! Zilch!
Just walk away!
Leave the cards right where they are. For the next 24 hours, you’re going to just leave them all there. You can come back a few times to read them, but no choosing. Be content that they’re all captured on paper, in one place, and won’t be lost!
Your only job for a full 24 hours is to notice what emotions come up as you read what you’ve written and as you think about these ideas. Just try to get clear on which emotions are attached to which projects.
4. Choose Once
Now that you’ve let things sink in a bit, let’s get down to business.
On each card, write down the emotion attached to that idea or project. (I use a different color for this, even multiple colors, but you do you!)
Now step back, observe, and choose THREE!
Look for a sense of excitement or anticipation. Is there a sense of excitement for one or two particular projects? If so, set those aside. You can select up to 3 projects at this stage, but no more.
(I’m watching you! No, you can’t have 3a and 3b.) Just NO!
You have now made a conscious choice to NOT develop those other ideas, at least not right now. You might come back to them later but for now they’re not an option. Put them in an envelope and stick them in the back of a drawer somewhere.
5. Now Choose Again
At this point, you’re down to three. It may be obvious which one excites you more. If so, congratulations, that’s your choice! Settle in and go for it.
If they all still feel equal to you, then I want to challenge you to go further. Imagine yourself going deep into each one – what do you feel now?
And if you really can’t decide, then brace yourself!
You’re going to flip a coin!
Heads it’s option 1, tails it’s option 2. Yep, I said it!
If you can’t or won’t decide, then let inertia decide for you.
The HARD Truth
Because here is the hard truth. If you can’t decide, then it really doesn’t matter which comes first in the grand scheme of things. I’ll say that again. If they are all equal to you and you can’t decide, then it doesn’t matter which comes first. So go ahead and flip that coin until you have one project left in front of you. Congratulations, you just committed to your next creative project!
Now I’d like you to stick with that project, ideally to completion, but for at least the next 90 days before moving onto another shiny object.
By now, if you’ve done this entire process and you still don’t feel great about your chosen project, then you’ve learned something really important: it was never about the specific projects or about your ability to choose.
Maybe you’re just afraid of creating right now, period!
And that’s okay, it happens to all of us from time to time, and it doesn’t have to be permanent.
Here’s what I will suggest: What if you go forward with that project anyway and tell yourself that you’re just playing around to see what might come of it? Start, observe yourself, and see what happens.
There is one caveat.
If you work in multiple creative genres, it may be possible to work on two projects. For example, working a few quilt squares from time to time while staying primarily focused on completing a surface pattern design collection on the computer. But the point of this exercise is to identify for yourself one primary creative project that you will focus on all the way to completion.
Leave your comments and observations here. What were your choices?
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Find more purpose and meaning in your day!